I read today that in Jacksonville, Florida a black campus police officer at an HBCU was the first law enforcement officer to confront the Jacksonville shooter. He was alerted to the shooter’s presence on campus by a carload of students who had seen the shooter dressing to kill in a faculty/staff parking lot. The police officer chased the man off campus, literally going to the limits of his authority in doing so.
At a subsequent press conference, the officer claimed not to be a hero.
The officer’s denial of being something special made me wonder who the heroes in our country really are. It is relatively easy to identify specific individuals in specific situations as heroes, but to take nothing away from such people they aren’t the average, everyday heroes who routinely walk our streets. I strongly believe that title belongs to the overwhelming majority of black people of every age in every walk of American life wherever they might live. These are the folks who face hostility in all of its disguises (sometimes armed) by day, and go to sleep each night knowing they will have to do so all over again the next day.
I am in awe of the fortitude and tenacity that it must take to endure such a life; I am in awe of the self-respect and humility that it must take to endure the unceasing scrutiny by whites at every level of society as they move through their daily routines. In truth, I can only begin to imagine the strength and conviction it takes to live in the constantly bubbling stew of a hostile living environment.
My awareness of their heroism has increased over the years due to my own experiences, especially of recent years as I have dealt with the persistent adverse effects of a stroke. The difficulties and pain I endure each day are ever present. They never relent. My disabilities have given me a glimpse of a black person’s everyday heroism, a glimpse that falls well short of true comprehension.
And that means that the Jacksonville campus police officer is a hero. So are the students who flagged him down to advise him of the shooter’s presence on campus. So are the black students, faculty and staff on campus who knew nothing of such events as they occurred. So are the black residents of Jacksonville, whether or not they have anything to do with the university. So are the millions of black citizens of our country wherever they live. For each of them survives in a gristmill of suspicion and hostility that must feel like being ground down ever so slowly by an emery stick; a hostility aimed at them because of something they have no control over whatsoever – their blackness, regardless of its hue.
I am tired of living with my disabilities even though I must if I wish to go on (and I do). But how weary would I be if I’d had to live my entire life with them? I’ll never know because I lived a good life before (and after) my stroke – a good white life. While I can only guess what a black person’s lifelong endurance of hostility must feel like, I recognize that endurance as a virtue.
Trying to write this piece without seeming or sounding patronizing and/or pompous is difficult, if not impossible, for a white author. In such situations, less is always more. Therefore, suffice it to say that such constant everyday endurance is heroic and inspiring.
Now, if only the rest of us could be inspired enough to learn something – anything – from it.